Pediatrician Debunks Common Cold Myths, Says Going Outside Won't Make You Sick

It’s not going outside that causes colds, it’s staying inside — well, according to a viral video by Dr. Clifford D. James.


Nov. 6 2023, Updated 4:17 p.m. ET

We’ve all heard the advice to make sure we’re properly dressed for winter weather, lest we “catch cold.” But Dr. Clifford D. James III assures us that going outside does not cause colds. Doing so may lead to other issues, like hypothermia or frostbite, but it won’t lead to a cold.

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That’s one of three debates Dr. James, a board certified pediatrician in Oak Ridge, Tenn., clears up in a Nov. 2 TikTok video that has already been viewed 1.9 million times. “We’ll just spread this all over the Internet, everyone will know, and it can just stop,” he says. “Because I would be perfectly happy if I never heard this again, OK?

Going outside does not cause colds, Dr. James says.

“Going outside when it’s cold without wearing the proper protective garments — a hat, a scarf, a coat — will not give you a cold,” Dr. James explains in the TikTok video. “It can’t work that way.”

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Why not? It’s all because of how the common cold is transmitted. “A cold is an infectious virus that you get from someone or that you got from something. Being cold had nothing to do with it,” Dr. James adds.

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In fact, the pediatrician tells viewers, you can even go outside “naked with your hair wet” and “dance and frolic in the middle of the snow” and not get a cold because of that activity. (Not that he recommends it: You can still get hypothermia and frostbite, he warns.)

Instead, Dr. James explains, you get the cold from being indoors. “The reason we get more colds during the winter is because we stay inside more. We don’t go outside. So when it’s cold weather, and everyone huddles together, and they all breathe the same air, and then they start spreading that. When they get all these kids in the same classroom, and then they go home, and then they stay inside, and then they get you sick, that’s the way you get sick with a cold.”

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Colds don’t just become the flu or RSV, he adds.

The second debate Dr. James settles in the video is that colds don’t just morph into the flu or RSV. “RSV is the name of the virus: respiratory syncytial virus. The flu is the name of the virus: influenza. It was that all along,” he says.

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It’s possible to have a cold and then develop RSV or the flu in quick succession, but that would just be a coincidence. “You may have gotten sicker and then got diagnosed, but you didn’t have a common cold that became RSV or became the flu,” Dr. James adds.

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Colds also don’t become strep throat, Dr. James tells viewers.

Dr. James then settles the third debate. “You cannot get a cold and it become strep throat,” he says. “A virus cannot mutate and become a bacterium, a completely different organism. It doesn’t work that way.”

Again, it’s possible to get strep throat right after getting a cold, but the latter didn’t cause the former, the pediatrician says. “It was either strep throat the whole time and it looks like a virus, or you had a virus, and before you get rid of the virus, you got strep throat,” he reasons. “Or you got both at the same time. During the school year, that’s a possibility.”

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Now, Dr. James wants to clear up these misconceptions so that he doesn’t have to hear those all-too-familiar refrains. “So spread this — let everybody know,” he asks viewers. “And quit coming in and telling me these things, because that’s not the works, and it’s just not the way it is.”

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